Second Stage of Labor

Going through the birth of your child is a wonderful and unique experience. No two deliveries are alike and there is no way to tell how your delivery is going to be. What we can tell you is the stages you will go through during this process and what you can generally expect. Childbirth can be divided into three stages:

First State: Begins from the onset of true labor and lasts until the cervix is completely dilated to 10 cm.

Second Stage: Continues after the cervix is dilated to 10 cm until the delivery of your baby.

Third Stage: Delivery of your placenta.

Second Stage:

The second stage of childbirth is pushing and delivery of your baby. Up until this point your body has been doing all the work for you. Now that your cervix has fully dilated to 10 cm it is time for your help. Time to PUSH!

Pushing and what to expect:

  • The entire process of the second stage lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours
  • Contractions will last about 45-90 seconds with a 3-5 minute rest in between
  • You will have a strong natural urge to push
  • You will feel strong pressure at your rectum
  • You will likely have a slight bowel or urination accident
  • Your baby’s head will eventually crown (become visible)
  • You will feel a burning, stinging sensation during crowing
  • During crowning you will be instructed by your health care provider not push

Pushing and what to do:

  • Get into a pushing position (one that uses gravity to your advantage)
  • Push when you feel the urge
  • Relax your pelvic floor and anal area (Kegel exercises can help)
  • Rest between contractions so you can regain your strength
  • Use a mirror so you can see your progress (this can be very encouraging!)
  • Use all your energy to push
  • Do not feel discouraged if your baby’s head emerges and then slips back into the vagina (this process can take two steps forward and one step back)

Tips for the support person:

  • Help her to be relaxed and comfortable (give her ice chips if you can and support her in her position)
  • Encourage, encourage, encourage
  • Be her guide through her contractions
  • Affirm what a great job she has done and is doing
  • Don’t feel bad if she becomes angry or emotional with you

What your baby is doing:

While you are in labor your baby is taking steps to enter this world.

1. Your baby’s head will turn to one side and the chin will automatically rest on the chest so the back of the head can lead the way.

2. Once you are fully dilated, your baby’s head leads the way and the head and torso begin to turn to face your back as they enter your vagina.

3. Next your baby’s head will begin to emerge or “crown” through the vaginal opening.

4. Once your baby’s head is out, the head and shoulders again turn to face your side. This position allows your baby to easily slip out.

Delivery and what to expect:

Keep in mind your baby has been soaking in a sac full of amniotic fluid for nine months. He/she has been through contractions, and your very narrow birth canal. The results of this journey include:

  • Cone-shaped head
  • Vernix coating (cheesy substance that coats the fetus in the uterus)
  • Puffy eyes
  • Lanugo (fine downy hair that cover the shoulders, back, forehead, and temple)
  • Enlarged genitals
Last Updated: 09/2008

Compiled using information from the following sources:

William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 17.

Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide. Simkin, Penny, P.T., et al, Ch. 9.

American Pregnancy Association,

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